Eddie Campbell was elected in May as the Kentucky Education Association’s president after serving three years as KEA vice president under former president Stephanie Winkler. He’s taught in northern, southcentral and eastern Kentucky and was most recently choir director at Knox Central High and Knox Middle Schools. Campbell, who joined KEA as a college student about 25 years ago, talks about his goals for his term, particularly the upcoming session of the Kentucky Legislature. Q: What do you hope to accomplish as KEA president over the next three years?A.
My goal is to give students every opportunity for high-quality public education with high-quality educators who serve them from when they get on the bus to when they get off the bus in the afternoon. I want to make sure aides, teachers, food service, custodians and others in the education system support students. I want to empower our members and all Kentucky educators. They are the biggest advocates for our students. They must have the tools and information to be the best advocates for public education.Q. How do you achieve that? A:
One is by empowering educators through professional learning. As an organization, we offer such opportunities for educators. We also want them to understand how the legislature impacts their job and their students. I tell teachers to tell the story of how your students are being impacted. To be the best advocate as an educator, talk about what you see every day and lift up that educator voice.Q. It’s hard to communicate effectively with such a large audience. How do you share important information and developments, particularly during the legislative session?A.
I send out a weekly President’s Points of Information email. There’s also the quarterly KEA News. During the legislative session, there are weekly updates about things that are going on, bills that need to be highlighted and advocated by educators. I’m also going to be doing a weekly summation. When there are big issues, we sometimes have town hall forum calls with members.Q. As the budget session begins, what are KEA’s biggest priorities?A.
Our big priority will be fully funding all aspects of public schools. We’ll focus on the school safety bill passed last year and funding for it. Kindergarten and early childhood education funding. Currently the state only funds half, which means your local school district is picking up the other half, so we want to make sure that the state provides funding for full-day kindergarten. Q. Gov. Beshear has credited teachers with helping him win the race. Will teachers have more influence in Frankfort going forward? A.
I think over the last four years, educators have found their voice in Frankfort. They now realize how important it is to understand the process and be informed, and they realize how the legislature impacts their students and their profession. Gov. Beshear stood up for educators the last four years on many, many occasions, and now I think he’s going to stand with us. We’re going to be true partners when we talk about educational issues. Q. Do you have any recommendations for teachers and your members? Are you going to ask teachers to do anything specific this session, as far as having their influence on policy?A.
My biggest recommendation is to be involved in the process, to get out there and form relationships with their legislators at a local level. Have conversations, invite legislators into the schools, show them what they do and how important it is that they have the support, the funding and the respect to make sure that they can do their jobs. Educators are the best advocates for our students. We work with them every day, so I encourage them to tell their stories from their classroom, to tell their stories from their bus, because the best way to lobby is from the heart. Talk to legislators at home, but also come to Frankfort. Q. There’s concern here and across the country because not as many young people are going into teacher prep programs and mid-career teachers are leaving the profession. Is changing that a priority for the association?A.
It’s a great concern. Education is the foundation of all other careers. Studies NEA (Natonal Education Association) has done show that the top two reasons educators leave the profession early are lack of funding and lack of support early in their careers. We need to make sure they have funding so they can effectively do their job and provide supports in the early part of their career through mentors and others who can reach out and support them. The Kentucky Teacher Internship program was not funded for the last budget cycle. That program gave our new educators someone that they could rely on, not just a fellow teacher, but also an administrator and a college resource person to support and grow them that first year. Also, we need to make sure that we’re paying our educators as professionals. The pay for educators across the country hasn’t kept up with other professions with similar degrees. Focusing and investing in that, along with making sure there’s a strong benefit package to recruit new people into the profession. Q. KEA does have chapters at the college level, doesn’t it?A.
Yes, our aspiring educator chapters provide strong foundational learning for pre-service teachers on every campus. We help mentor them and provide a network of practicing educators that they can reach out to if they have questions or concerns. After they become active teachers, they know that they have their association to reach out.Q. You were a member of KEA in college?A.
Yes and it made a world of difference. I formed a network of friends and colleagues that I could reach out to. I had the opportunity to go out and observe in classrooms as a pre-service teacher, so I could get that hands-on experience and see master teachers at work. Q. One concern teachers who leave the profession express is student behavior. How can districts support teachers in dealing with behavior and discipline issues? A.
We are having discussions with educators across the state about how that can be addressed. The school safety bill is a great piece of legislation. It is important to make sure we have funding that supports everything around school safety, like counseling and mental health.Q. KSBA and KEA often work together for the benefit and advancement of public education. Will that partnership continue during your term?A.
Oh, yes, forming partnerships with KSBA and other groups only makes us stronger. When we work together for a common good, it grows the opportunities for our public school system. It shows that we are united in focusing on students and as president, I’m going to work with groups that are going to better our public schools. Q. Are there any issues that you’ll be working on with KSBA in particular?A.
I think KSBA and KEA alike are focused on the big issues. Fully funding our public schools so that our students and educators are supported and our educators are paid as professionals, and we’re recruiting and retaining high quality educators in all aspects of the workforce. I think there’s a lot of legislative issues and, even beyond that, professional learning issues that we can partner together on.Q. How can school board members and teachers can work together for the benefit of students? A.
I know there are rules and restrictions about all board members being in the same place at the same time, but just forming those relationships, welcoming educators and encouraging them to come to their local school board meetings, reaching out and asking questions like, “How do you think this is going to impact your students? How can we improve what we’re doing as a board to support the students in your classroom?” That dialogue is vitally important. The educators that are working with students each and every day are a vital resource and they’re experts in what they do. Q. Do you miss being in the classroom?A.
I do. I miss working with my kids. It was amazing to see them grow and learn and express themselves through an art form such as music. I miss working with my colleagues at Knox Central High School and the middle school there. I worked with a phenomenal group of educators who were very supportive of each other. My colleagues came to my students’ concerts.